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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Estrada the man of action
President Joseph Estrada
Man of action: Estrada tries to revive his image
By BBC New Online's Tarik Kafala

The offensive by the Philippines military against Muslim separatist guerrillas on the island of Jolo may well come to the rescue of beleaguered President Joseph Estrada.

The Philippine leader has been taking a prominent role in the offensive, doing his best to remind Filipinos of the action heroes he used to play in his previous career in films. Mr Estrada recently promised that the Abu Sayyaf would be "pulverised into ashes".

The campaign, and Mr Estrada's approach, is proving to be as popular with domestic opinion in the Philippines as it is unpopular internationally.

Estrada takes charge
President Estrada takes personal charge
Outside the Philippines, Mr Estrada's gung-ho attitude has been controversial because it does not seem to prioritise the safety of hostages and civilians.

International worries centre on the fate of 19 local and foreign hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf. Well into the offensive, none of the hostages had been released and their whereabouts were unknown.

Reports from Jolo speak of hundreds of Muslim villagers wounded or even killed in the continuing bombardment.

Taking charge

President Estrada has travelled to Zamboanga, near Jolo, to take personal charge for the offensive.

After the humiliation of the last months, in which the Philippine government seemed unable to do anything about the hostage crisis, destroying the Abu Sayyaf has become a political imperative for Mr Estrada.

Dissent in the Philippines
There has been opposition to the offensive from Church groups
His situation echoes that of Russian President Vladimir Putin's domestically popular, but internationally criticised, campaign to overcome separatist rebels in Chechnya.

On that occasion, Mr Putin's ability to cast himself as a man of action in a crisis was crucial. The cost of that action, in terms of civilian suffering, seemed to be of little concern in Russia.

In the Philippines, 4,000 troops are in action on Jolo, supported by artillery and armoured vehicles, as well as bomber planes and helicopters.

This too is an echo of the massive military force deployed by Moscow against the Chechen rebels.

Failing popularity

If the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf succeeds, political analysts in the Philippines are predicting, Mr Estrada's reputation could be redeemed.

The two years of Mr Estrada's presidency have seen him dogged by allegations of incompetence, corruption and cronyism. He has from time to time even complained about the rigours of being president.

A series of controversial decisions have also added to his troubles - above all the proposal to give former dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero's burial.

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See also:

18 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines admits civilian deaths
16 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Former hostages sickened by offensive
15 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia to shoot kidnap suspects
12 Sep 00 | Middle East
Libya hands over Jolo hostages
01 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Rebels seek $10m for US hostage
02 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf hostage-takers?
02 May 00 | World
Analysis: How hostages cope
09 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: The Jolo hostage drama
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